paper doll – London and Milan SS13 collections

I felt compelled to work on a new contemporary doll after creating my Edwardiana doll, when I realized I hadn’t created a doll inspired by new fashions since 2010. She’s blonde blonde blonde, as a nod to the ultimate plastic fashion doll. She has a wardrobe of separates inspired by seven of the Spring 2013 collections from London and Milan. The selection is a bit of grown-up minimalist mixed up with young and weird, and I enjoyed rendering some of the textures and effects of the season.

If you, like me, can’t afford a whole new spring wardrobe to mix and match with, paper is an ideal way to pretend you can. This doll is available for purchase as a high-resolution printable PDF for $15 USD.

A PDF is a high-quality printable file. Unlike the images found on the web, there is clarity of detail which reproduces beautifully in print. Purchase this paper doll, and you can print her out for personal use – to cut out, play with and display.

trend ender – the half-tuck

Trend Ender is an irregular feature created to identify, illustrate and investigate the origins of current fashion trends, discuss when they’re fabulous and when they fail, and attempt to predict their demise.

Trend: Half-tuck. This refers to the styling technique of partially tucking a shirt into the waistband of a pair of trousers or a skirt. The shirt may be only tucked at the front, perhaps to display a belt buckle. A partially buttoned dress shirt might be tucked in on one side only. There are a few other quirkier variations that are seen less often – tucking in at the back only, or tucking only one half of a collar into a jumper.

Where it came from: Partially tucked shirts are as perennial as carelessly dressed men. There is very little historical precedence for the deliberate half-tuck, though. Tucking or untucking has centuries of political significance – untucked smocks for the peasantry, exposed belts (and weapons) for the ruling class. The earliest instance of an intentional half-tuck I could find was Morrissey of The Smiths in the 1980s. (Hat tip Catherine!) While some evidence is available for Mick Jagger being the earliest originator, for him it seems to be more of an accidental or gestural tic rather than a deliberate affectation.

Class-mobile hot rockers certainly influenced the way their fans dressed but the half-tuck didn’t hit the runway until 1991, for Calvin Klein Jeans at the height of its sexually suggestive phase. It didn’t become a trendy menswear phenomenon worthy of a New York Times article until 2004, when David Beckham did the undone look best. The look for men is about drawing attention to anatomy.

The undisputed queen of the current half-tuck cycle is stylist Emmanuelle Alt, whose boyish profile rose, along with the popularity of the half-tuck for women, when she became editor of Vogue Paris in 2011.

When it works: I first time remember registering this styling trick was on Balmain menswear Spring 2012. My instant thought was – I could do that! I could never afford a Balmain shirt, but I could surely stick half of my thrift-store shirt into my jeans. I did, and instantly felt cooler, for free. That’s my kind of quick fashion hit.

When it’s wack: The half-tuck is a total contradiction, the ultimate in plausible deniability. The idea is to look put-together and undone at the same time, artfully dishevelled. Successfully pulling off this illusion takes conscious thought, and yet if the contrivance is visible the look fails. The key to this is an insouciant attitude; this look should never be attempted by the sincere.

How it will end: With reluctance, I’ve already started either totally tucking or untucking my shirts, just because it is beginning to feel a bit try-hard to half-tuck. When a trend is as simple as sticking your hand down your pants, it’s easy-come, easy-go.

invitation – 30 on 30 – a fond farewell to London and my 20s

This is it. My last month in London. In a week, I’ll be turning 30. To celebrate these losses, I will be spending a long Sunday afternoon at my local pub, eating burgers and drinking pop & pints. If you are in London, please consider yourself invited – come and say hello before I go!

Sunday September 30 2012 from 2pm until whenever

Sebright Arms in Bethnal Green


in praise of the unplanned career

If you, like I often do, need some reassurance that it’s okay to stumble towards destiny, I wrote some words for you. Ryerson Folio invited me to submit another piece aimed at my favourite audience – the young person at the cusp.

The essential element of the unplanned career is embracing the emptiness. When you are in school and every second is scheduled, you are taught that unoccupied hours are wasted hours, that allowing downtime between life’s events is unwise. Having gaps in your resume is considered undesirable. When people ask you what you’re doing, it is implicit that “nothing” is not an acceptable answer. Yet your life’s purpose won’t reveal itself to you when you’re constantly in the midst of mundane tasks or doing things just because you’re supposed to. You might think that if you enter a lull you’ll become indolent, but for most human beings indolence quickly loses its charm, and in the absence of obligations you’ll find yourself naturally gravitating towards your real desires, even if you didn’t know what your desires were before.

Read the entire article in Ryerson Folio, or if you’re a student there, pick up a paper copy.

live runway sketching – London Fashion Week 18-09-12

It did seem like my London Fashion Week would be over after overlap day. With no further tickets, I was watching events unfold on my laptop, especially enjoying the SHOWstudio live commentary.  I do love a good panel format. Then I caught a lucky break – a friend was leaving London and passed along her front row (!) tickets for Tuesday afternoon. For the first time ever in London, I had an unobstructed view of the fashions from head to toe. I did my best to maximize the opportunity.

The first show was Ashish in the early afternoon (top and above) and I experienced that rare joy when you discover a new-to-you designer and totally fall in love. This was totally up my street – boyish, geeky girls in baggy denims, half-tucks and mis-buttoning everywhere. This is probably the first time I’ve ever seen sequins done in a way I’d want to wear them. When I love the show I’m watching the sketching comes so easily, even though my first show of the day is generally a bit stiffer I loosened up quite quickly.

Networking at fashion week is not something I’m good at. I dress scruffy in jeans and chucks, I spend most of my time on my own, watching everything and shamelessly overhearing conversations – in full observation mode. In between shows I spend a lot of time day-dreaming and no time at all air-kissing.

I’m lucky though that every fashion week I have a couple of fashion week friends – wonderful people I feel comfortable enough with to lay all my deep thoughts and dumb jokes on. This time, it was Stefania, of Textstyles, who helped me brainstorm my first ever promotion idea. I’m so clueless at business, how did I even get five years into this thing without ever doing an active promotion? Don’t be like me, kids.

Then there was Tara, who I serendipitously met at a party over the weekend and gave me my first ever opportunity to be interviewed in an official capacity as a trend theorist for television. I made up that title, and I’m still figuring out what it means, and yet I feel as if it is becoming a legitimate thing.

The next show was Aminaka Wilmont (above and below). It was satisfying to return to the scene of last season’s emotional breakdown and be able to bring it back to the drawing board.  These designers do a lot of prints which are challenging to render in real time, but the hairstyle had a brilliant profile and I loved the dramatic eye makeup.

I stood in line for ages to attend the final show of the London season, Fashion Fringe. By this time I was yawning, paying the price for a late Monday night, and I think the sketches, though loose, suffered somewhat from my exhaustion. This is the second time I’ve been lucky enough to attend Fashion Fringe. It is exciting to watch, as the designers tend to be very diverse and are encouraged to be brave with their identities and polished in their presentation.

The winner, Haizhen Wang, showed a satisfying, aggressive collection that referenced armour in a very modern, abstract way.

Teija showed dramatic silhouettes that somehow still seemed very wearable and real… many items would suit a wealthy, stylish woman who walks the streets of West London in reality, but is actually walking through forests in her imagination.

The third designer, Vita Gottlieb, has a collaged, piled-on aesthetic with unusual shapes and lots of pattern and texture.

Afterwards, I realized I was much happier than I usually am after London fashion week. I feel so blessed to have seen so many interesting shows. I am quite pleased with several of my sketches, and I feel more confident at live-sketching than ever. I managed to come up with some exciting ideas that I’m looking forward to working on, I absorbed a lot of the London zeitgeist in just two days, and I spent some time with some truly lovely people.

This might be my last London fashion week for a while. So finally, I’m feeling the London love.

live runway sketching – London Fashion Week 14-09-12

Overlap day is a window of opportunity for outsider applicants to London Fashion Week. While the international glam squad are flying over the Atlantic, upstarts get the chance to attend fashion shows – and for me, the ability score that rare valuable vantage point that will actually allow me to sketch the runway show as it happens.

This year, there is a sponsor box that offers an excellent standing view of the runway over the heads of the audience. Of course, I’m not allowed in the box, but one edge of the box is perfectly situated for placing my sketchbook on. I was able to score this single perfect spot for the first two runway shows on Friday and that auspicious little circumstance helped me sieze the momentum and confidence I need to perform.

The first show (above and below) that kicked of London Fashion Week was Antoni & Alison. I wasn’t familiar with their work, so lucky for me they had a voice-over introduction for their show, in which they reflected on 25 years of working together. It was a wonderful, bittersweet way to begin a week – and what that they said really struck me.

Alison spoke first, and she mentioned a couple times this lingering sense that no one cares about what they do. I found this sentiment resonant to my own live runway sketching work – I’ve been developing this skill for over five years, and it has never been a particularly popular feature on Final Fashion. In spite of the fact that it is a great challenge that I’m proud of being able to perform, the reaction to the work has never really matched my own emotional and creative investment in it.

Then Antoni spoke, and counterpointed Alison’s lament with an assertion that he doesn’t care if anyone else cares about what they do. What a wonderful creative partner to have. He also said that over the years, occasionally it gets so difficult that they contemplate quitting… and every time that happens, something happens. This was a fabulous kickstarter for me as I wet my brush… if you’re a creative soul, you are constantly in the position of questioning why you do it when it is often so painful, offering only rare, intermittent bursts of transcendence. If you’re truly meant to do what you do, you never give up before something happens. You hold on, no matter how much it hurts.

The Antoni & Alison show itself was delightful and very appropriate for watercolours – hand-painted shift dresses with tons of colour. I’ve gotten better at holding two brushes in one hand – one for black lines and one for colour, which allows me to get much more of what I see down on paper, faster, than if I’m working with a single brush. All of these sketches were completed while the show was happening – depending on the show, I do about five to ten sketches, out of which one or two will be more successful.


The next show was Caroline Charles (above), another designer I was unfamiliar with, who also has impressive longevity. There were cards on the seats that told me she had been in fashion for fifty years. I think it’s amazing when designers stick with what they do for so long, considering how difficult and precarious it is to run this type of business. Already the theme of the day was “never, ever give up” and I poured that sense of stubbornness wholeheartedly into the sketching.

Charles’ show demonstrated that she had grown with her clients – very much the kind of little black dresses and floral resort wear that would look great on a West London lady of a certain age. There was some abuse of the “pop of colour” trend in the accessories, but Charles wasn’t the only designer who showed that day who is still drinking the neon kool-aid.

Speaking of fluorescence, outside the tents felt like Toontown from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Head-to-toe, violent colour combos, kooky hats and shoes of every description, senseless layering of every played-out trend on top of one another. The courtyard at Somerset House this season is more slapstick than street style. I much prefer sketching runway.

The next show was Maria Grachvogel, another designer I was unfamiliar with. She showed a lot of flowing chiffon jumpsuits which were lots of fun to draw, with a really lovely french braided hairdo that looked terrific from the side. Pretty pretty, though the look didn’t work as well on some of the PRs as it did on the models.

Up next was Corrie Nielsen (below), whose work I was aware of as she was a nominee at the Scottish Fashion Awards earlier this year. This was exactly the type of fashion show you hope to see in London – high-conceptual, exaggerated proportions, over-the-top styling, with a botanical/historical inspiration. There was a lot going on and as such I found it challenging to sketch quickly.

The final show of the day was Jean-Pierre Braganza, whose work I have been following for several seasons now. I was happy to be warmed-up when it was time to sketch it, because I love his style. He’s like the Trent Reznor of fashion designers – possessing a sincere, organically evolving aesthetic. He doesn’t do trends – he’s an auteur. Perhaps this is the reason that he doesn’t get the kind of recognition he deserves – simply because London’s fashion week audience is so hungry for eyeball-grabbing novelty, there isn’t enough appreciation out there for a designer who does work that is consistent and soulful.

The tent is not necessarily an easy place to stage a compelling, unique show – there is a blank, empty-box quality to it. Braganza transcends this with very personal choice of music, which always feels like it is integral to the collection. In this case, the music was produced by a friend of the designer. The sharp, nervy auditory vibe inflected the show and infected my sketches, which I am proud of.

After every fashion week I attend, I often feel on the edge of an existential crisis. Sometimes I’m not happy with the sketches at all and I despair. I question why I do it and whether it all matters. On Friday, I was able to immerse myself in what I love – sketching runway shows as they happen – for a day I poured all my heart and enthusiasm into it. This time, a few designers reminded me what I love about fashion and why I make the effort to sketch every season. Some day, all the time I’ve spent developing this skill will make sense and something will happen. I will never quit.

trend ender – mullet skirts

Trend Ender is an irregular feature created to identify, illustrate and investigate the origins of current fashion trends, discuss when they’re fabulous and when they fail, and attempt to predict their demise.

Trend: Mullet skirts. This is the affectionate or disparaging term for “high-low” hemlines which are currently dominating the high street. (In case you’re wondering, the etymology of the mullet is discussed here.)

Where it came from: High-low didn’t appear until hemlines rose in the 1920s, for obvious reasons. In some cases, very formal dresses still had trains, but also had the fashionable shorter length in the front. Variegated hemlines of various types – asymmetrical, handkerchief, zig-zag, etcetera – were common. One theory I remember reading once (though I can’t find an online reference) was that because hemlines were rising and falling unpredictably from one season to the next, women would adopt uneven hemlines to hedge their bets. Perhaps a more straight-forward explanation was the popularity of dancing during the jazz age – swags and fishtails wiggle fantastically during a foxtrot or a Charleston. The high-low hem in particular is associated with the Argentine Tango craze, and is often worn by tango dancers to this day.

The high-low hem made a reappearance in the 1950s and 60s, as it was favoured by the Spanish-born master couturier Cristobal Balenciaga, most famously in his conical, modern version of the wedding dress in 1967. Balenciaga’s designs reference in an abstract way the lavish bustled silhouettes that his female family members wore during his childhood, while at the same time elaborating on the high front hip of Dior’s New Look. It’s sheer speculation, though, as to why high-low and front-back contrasts are such a signature of his.

In 2009, Karl Lagerfeld presented a high-low silhouette for Chanel Couture and this appears to be the genesis of its current cycle of popularity. Style blogger Rumi Neely rocked them in 2010 and the look is now indelibly associated with her and her many imitators.

When it works: High-low looks fierce with a long stride and adds a satisfying sense of movement to those Tommy Ton landscape street style shots. It’s perfect for dancing and a cheap polyester knock-off is pretty appropriate for festival wear.

When it’s wack: This trend was super-saturated this summer, and the bad news for those of us with short attention spans is that it’s not even close to being over. I have a friend who works as a pattern-maker at a high street chain and she tells me:

I was talking with the head skirt designer at work just last week and she was explaining how she was feeling the pressure to come up with more mullet skirt ideas for next season. Mullets were the best selling skirts last summer, last winter, this sumer and they are forecasting this winter also. There are only so many variations on the mullet one can come up with so I do feel sorry for the designers. In just the last month I’ve drafted about 15 patterns for high low variations (cross over at the front, pleats, gathers, frills etc etc etc) Our next drop of mullets are going to be more of an asymmetrical thing. So short over the left but long over the right. Or a traditional mullet rotated to the side if you will…

How it will end: There’s a famous economic theory that hemlines go up in good times and down in bad times. George Taylor, who came up with the “Hemline Index” in 1926, thought it had something to do with conspicuous consumption of stockings, which were expensive and easily damaged. We’re no longer in the era of pricey hosiery, nor are we measuring our hems in lockstep with the seasons, so this indicator is probably specious now. Still, it is amusing (or depressing) to think that the uneven hem is a symptom of uncertain times. If that follows, the high-low hem will go the way of the mullet when the economy starts making sense again.

click click – 12-09-12

Welcome to click click, the sporadic review of what I find worth clicking on the internet.

J.C. Leyendecker was one of the greatest fashion illustrators at a time when illustration dominated magazine covers and advertising, idealizing the sophisticated men of his time. This well researched post offers deeper insight into Leyendecker’s career and life.

  • The Norma Rae of Fashion Interns – this inevitable lawsuit makes me wonder… if the fashion industry doesn’t “owe” its unpaid interns anything, why does it have them?
  • Fashion Week Etiquette Breach – this turf war makes me wonder when the first truly hybrid pit-photographer/fashion blogger will emerge? There’s an opportunity open for a clever blogger with real camera skills.
  • you thought we wouldn’t notice – further to the discussion of copy culture, this watchdog site documents graphic gangsterism at its most blatant. However, many of the apparent rip-offs are based on creations that are already in grey areas of image appropriation. Via Nick.
  • Why Fashion Keeps Tripping Over Race – this 2011 article by Robin Givhan is worth revisiting. Since fashion’s creative leaders have more aesthetic intelligence than political awareness, the treatment of race tends to be very superficial.
  • What’s a $4000 Suit Worth? – you can’t scale skill – which means that master craftsmen will never reap great rewards. Capitalism has progressively killed all occupations that involve hands and human experience, no wonder there are so few great creators left.

Karma kids –

  • Another Garçon – I’m very pleased to be among some fantastic illustrators who have rendered Jonathan’s fine features.
  • Black & Blonde“Lindsay offers insightful fashion commentary, beauty tutorials, and a little dash of her Brooklyn lifestyle!”

trend ender – neon

Trend Ender is an irregular feature created to identify, illustrate and investigate the origins of current fashion trends, assess when they’re fabulous and when they fail, and attempt to predict their demise.

Trend: Neon. The more accurate technical term for this trend is daylight fluorescence – these are colours that under regular white light appear to have a luminous quality. Fluorescence refers to the property of a substance that makes invisible UV light visible, thus creating a glowing effect. But perhaps since fluorescent is tricky to spell, fashion editors prefer the word neon.

Where it came from: Daylight fluorescence is amazing – a truly modern form of colour. In the 1930s, Robert Switzer discovered naturally occurring fluorescent compounds that could be used to create paint. Fluorescence was adapted for military use during WW2. After the war, Switzer and his brother established a company called Day-Glo, providing high-visibility materials for industrial safety and inks for commercial use. Day-Glo also used fluorescent technology to create consumer paint products that were used by kids… and Andy Warhol. Switzer is remembered for being a very safety and environmentally conscious industrialist. Considering the original glow-in-the-dark commercial product was radium, and the horrific story of the Radium Girls (which includes a deadly manicure anecdote), this is understandable.

When fluorescent ink came into use in the 1950s, graphic designers immediately understood that they could use it to establish visual hierarchy in packaging and advertising. In the 1960s and 1970s, fluorescent ink was lavishly applied for psychedelic effects. That counterculture palette, ironically and iconically, also announced the anti-hippie backlash on the cover of Never Mind the Bollocks… here’s the Sex Pistols. Punk morphed into New Wave and kept the loud graphics. It was New Wave album art which inspired the MTV aesthetic.

It wasn’t until the late 1980s that fashion began to successfully incorporate these cutting-edge colours beyond plastic accessories and screen prints, and the reason why it took so long is technological – dying fabrics fluorescent is difficult, even to this day, especially for cotton. Fluorescents in clothing weren’t driven by fashion media, but by pop culture. Hit TV show Miami Vice, based on the two-word concept “MTV Cops” was incredibly influential in establishing a fashion aesthetic that was made for colour television. Footwear brand LA Gear cashed in on the trend. But it was Will Smith in head-to-toe highlighter as the Fresh Prince that exemplifies the hyperactive spectrum of early 1990s.

Grunge turned the lights out for mainstream fluorescents, and when LA Gear filed for bankruptcy, rather than destroying their inventory they dumped it. Fluorescents were discounted, stuck with fluorescent sale stickers under fluorescent lamps. Flourescents went underground… only coming out at night, embraced by party people.

It was rave culture that inspired designers like Jeremy Scott, who introduced the acidic aesthetic to high fashion at the turn of the century. But it took another decade before the early 1990s was ripe enough to be considered nostalgic, so fluorescents could go mainstream again.

When it works: A judiciously chosen “pop of colour” is an effective visual trick for grabbing attention – that’s just good PR. Over the past few years, accessory brands like Zatchels, high street retailers like American Apparel, fashion designers like Christoper Kane, and street style photographers like Scott Schuman, have all savvily employed fluorescents to raise their profile.

When it’s wack: The problem is… everyone noticed. And now, everyone else is using this this tactic too. There’s a peculiar paradox about high-visibility garments – when they become common, they have the exact opposite effect that they’re supposed to.

How it will end: Much like a glowstick, fluorescents shine for only a brief time until they turn into trash. However, they will definitely be back – probably when some smart scientist out there figures out how to effectively dye cotton fluorescent. Then, neon will become so much more ubiquitous, you’ll long for the dull days of 2012.

trend ender – nail art

Trend Ender is a new irregular feature, meant to identify, illustrate and investigate the origins of current fashion trends, assess when they’re fabulous and when they fail, and attempt to predict their demise.

Trend: Nail art. This term describes any type of manicure that is more elaborate than just a swipe of one nail polish. It can be as simple as layering one nail polish over another, or as complex as three-dimensional, multi-media collage. Essentially, it’s the application of time, thought, and technique that elevates fingernails into ‘art’.

Where it came from: Colouring nails has been a part of human history for thousands of years, across many cultures, but the first instance of figurative nail art is thought to be by the Incas in the 15th century. More recently, royalty of the decadent Qing dynasty in China grew their nails very long and wore decorative jewelled nail guards to emphasize their leisured lifestyle. Creative, unconventional manicures have been recorded since nail polish was introduced in 1917. In the 1980s, star athlete Florence Griffith Joyner’s nail art was famous – she said she used it to emphasize her femininity. There is an unexamined anecdotal modern phenomenon of elaborate nail art worn by African American and East Asian women, though frustrating Google searches on the topic reveal very little. It seems to be related to marginalized female entrepreneurship. In the only decent post I found, rather than exploring the racial aspect of the history, Robin Givhan only offers an explanation for why it is not discussed. I hope some smart young journalist out there writes a thoughtful article about this soon. (UPDATE: Britticisms has written a wonderful post about her personal experiences with nail art growing up in Chicago in the 1990s.)

When it works: Great nail art truly lives up to the name – there are manicures that are postmodernconceptuallavishtechnically impressive. Perhaps nail art’s greatest virtue is that it is one of those rare little luxuries that is accessible to everyone. No matter how bad life gets, anyone can have a bit of glamour at their fingertips.

When it’s wack: Sub-trends in nail art are driven by novelty and technology. So when a new gimmick in nail polish is released – like Crackle Nail Polish was in the summer of 2011, it fads and fades before it even gets a chance to dry. If you’re not willing to do the necessary upkeep to stay on top of this type of high-rotation trend cycle, you might as well not bother dipping your chipped fingernails in.

How it will end: The current obsession with nail art is fuelled by technology of a different kind – social media. The camaraderie of the nail salon has become an international grass-roots gab session which even a naked nail type like myself can appreciate for all the enthusiasm and creativity on display. I doubt this trend will end anytime soon – it’s community-driven and the big brands are very late to the party. Now that the fashion industry is getting into the game, the faddishness of specific techniques do seem to have shorter and shorter life cycles. It’s not hard to imagine a future where a novel nail art innovation receives wholehearted praise and all-round condemnation within a single day, if not a single hour.